The combination of more awareness about signing midyear enrollees and the broadening of the type of commitments that allow publicity and recruiting restrictions to be ignored lead to a couple interesting recruiting battles. Two wide receivers, Dominique Booth and Josh Malone, signed multiple athletic scholarship offers, but not NLIs. As a result, the coaches recruiting them were freed from limits like how many calls per week, the ban on texting, and could talk publicly about them, all before the players even verbally committed to a school.
But the NCAA today issued an interpretation that closed this loophole:
The committee determined that in a situation in which a prospective student-athlete signs a National Letter of Intent or a written offer of admission and/or financial aid with multiple institutions or submits a financial deposit to multiple institutions in response offers of admission, the legislative provisions that eliminate or reduce recruiting restrictions after a prospective student-athlete signs a National Letter of Intent or the institution’s written offer of admission and/or financial aid, or after the institution receives his or her financial deposit in response to its offer of admission applies only to the first institution with which the prospective student-athlete signs a valid National Letter of Intent, written offer of admission and/or financial aid, or the first institution to receive his or her financial deposit in response to an offer of admission, whichever occurs first.
What all that means is that the first school an athlete signs with is the only one that gets the benefit of the “commitment”. The athlete might still have the freedom to change their mind, but any other schools the athlete signs with are still bound by the normal recruiting rules until the athlete enrolls.
The problem with this interp is not that it does not make sense. It is within the spirit of the rule, which assumed that signing a non-binding scholarship offer, offer of admission, or sending a financial deposit was a similar commitment to signing a binding National Letter of Intent. Practice has shown that is not the case, so the interp corrects the discrepancy.
But it creates nightmares on campus if athletes, especially highly recruited midyear football enrollees, insist on signing these scholarship offers, especially more than one. When an athlete signs an NLI, it is recorded by the NCAA and available for any other institution recruiting the athlete to see through the Eligibility Center website. When an athlete signs a scholarship agreement, no one knows except that institution and the athlete unless either decides to announce it. That means not only will coaches be unsure if they were the first to sign the athlete, but it could also mean inadvertent violations if coaches assume or are told their institution has the first scholarship offer.
If the rule and interpretation remain this way, the NCAA will have to step in and create a system for tracking these commitments. The backbone already exists, in the NLI recording system. That system could be expanded to allow institutions, through their conference, to record other forms of commitment including scholarship agreements, admissions offers, and deposits.